Geography using the environment - Teaching activities

What is Earth like? How are living and nonliving features—including people—distributed across its face? Why? So what? Exploring questions such as these is the business of geography —literally, "earth writing."

Geography is a huge, diverse subject. Because its focus is the world around us, it overlaps extensively with environmental education. Here are some suggestions for incorporating geography into environmental education and vice versa:

  • Emphasize systems and links. When you study a river, talk not just about its physical features, but where it comes from, where it flows to, what creatures use it, how it has been changed by humans. When you explore a culture, explore its relationship to the landscape around it.
  • Personalize. As you study regions, help students see them as real places. Youth—tomorrow’s adults—will be more motivated to promote a positive future for Brazilian rain forests, Southeast Asian rivers, and African wildlife if they are more than just names or features on a map.
  • Remember the fourth dimension. When you talk about places, talk about their past and future as well as their present. What was the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers like before European settlement? What will transportation networks be like when fossil fuels are no longer available?
  • Emphasize life. When you study oceans, rivers, valleys, mountains, and deserts, study them as homes to living things as well as map features.
  • Focus on home. The patch of Earth that means most to your students is the patch outside your door. Explore geography—landforms, settlement patterns, climate, etc.—in your own back yard.
  • Use maps when talking about environmental topics. In which part of Minnesota are wolves found? Where is that oil spill or forest fire that’s been in the news?
  • Weave environmental issues into your geography lessons. Talking climate? Talk global climate change. Mapping mineral resources? Discuss the concepts of renewability and recycling. Doing map work? Trace the path of a migrating animal. Learning states? Learn state trees, too.
  • Trace the travels of natural resources as they come together to become a shoe, chair, or other common object. Find out where the raw materials came from that were used to manufacture it.

Whatever topics you cover, help students understand that, just as a river carves the landscape, their lives will leave a permanent mark on the world around them. It’s up to them to determine whether it will be a positive or negative one.

(From Fall 2001 Interconnections)

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